Tag Archives: hanami

sakura season!

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In Tokyo, from the last few days of March until the first few days of April, cherry blossoms paint the city in shades of pink. Called “sakura” in Japanese, these flowers are probably as quintessential to Western visions of Japan as Mt. Fuji or kimono. Sure, in the states you’ll be able to find them and probably with a more generous blooming season due to more consistent temperatures, but in Japan viewing these flowers is an all out experience. 

DSCN4947An up-close view of the beautiful sakura

Symbolically, cherry blossoms are representative of transience, brevity, and the Japanese concept of “mono no aware,” the awareness of things. They are also compared to clouds, due to their sudden emergence and the various forms they take on during their life cycle: cirrus, stratus, and cumulus shapes are all represented. The effect of fallen petals is also rather snow-like, whiting out streets and bodies of water. 

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The Meguro river under attack.

The sakura bloom is a time to truly appreciate the wonders of spring, at last revealing themselves despite the season supposedly having started with Setsubun way back in February. Tokyo can’t help but slow down, albeit for less than a week, under the pink tree tops and the lanterns that accompany them. There’s even a word for taking in the sights, hanami, combining the kanji for “flower” and “look.” 

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Boats for a better view in Chiyoda!

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As pretty as they are, sakura don’t provide much protection from sun exposure so be sure to bring a hat!

Hanami was truly unlike anything I’ve experienced in Tokyo. For once, I felt like I was the one moving fast and on edge, trying to capture the best angles, whilst more seasoned Tokyoites were lazing about, chatting and picnicking. 

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Sakura mochi waffle: as pretty as it is plastic-like, 5/10

Food seems just as important as the flowers themselves, something I realized soon enough to regret bringing a snack. You can usually tell you’re getting close to a good hanami spot by the empty shelves in the surrounding conbinis. Fancier grocery stores usually market bento boxes specifically for the activity, including all kinds of sakura candies or patterned napkins. And of course some people just make their own meals; in Ueno Park I even saw some portable grills in use! 

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Meguro at night

Still, sakura aren’t absorbing enough that typical Tokyo order is completely lost. Even in their flower frenzy, most observers of hanami remained fully considerate of the people around them. Trash would be neatly tucked away, children kept in check, and the best angles were equipped with de facto queues, no one hogging any one branch for too long. 

On the one day I was out alone, I was met with such a barrage of offers to take pictures for me reciprocally that I finally gave in, despite looking an utter mess after hours of park hopping. 

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I call this expression “Sensoji Steel”

After the fact that I completely missed the fall application deadline for TUJ, sakura season was the determining factor in me coming to Japan in the spring. Ever since first seeing the far less impressive bloom that overtakes D.C. about a week or two after Tokyo season, I knew I wanted to see the real thing. As my time abroad comes closer and closer to the end, I’m glad to have ticked hanami off my list as well as to be reminded that there are many other traditional experiences I’ll be able to seek out in the coming weeks. 

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Hanami in Ueno Koen

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The cherry blossoms have been blooming all over Tokyo for the past few weeks, and despite the supposed numbing effects of photo saturation one might assume would come with that, they really are quite breathtaking. Locations around my neighborhood that I’ve now been familiar with for months have transformed, quite literally overnight, into stop-and-take-note type views, pictures worthy of sending back home or putting up on instagram.

This season in Japan is called Hanami, and is often filled with feasts and parties held beneath the Sakura trees, celebrating the temporary beauty of the sakura, as they only last for a week or two, as well as the return of the nice weather. In many parts of Japan, the blossoms line up with the beginning of school or work vacation, timing which lends itself well to the festival like atmosphere.

Hanami parties at night are called Yozakura, and some of the larger parks in Tokyo, most famously Ueno Park, put up temporary paper lanterns for this purpose. Last Friday night we decided to head to Ueno and see for ourselves.

The park was insanely crowded, and in a way that was strange to see in Japan: kind of a mess. Not necessarily in a bad way, it just looked like there had been a massive, multi day party going on there, which of course, there had been. All of the spaces under the cherry trees were packed, covered in tarps and groups of friends, families, and coworkers, eating, drinking, listening to music, and celebrating. The trees themselves were gorgeous, and being offset against the grey, 8pm sky gave them a far more dramatic feel than they had during the day. We walked around the park for a bit, watching things unfold in the light of the paper lanterns, before deciding to stop by some of the food trucks and stand that had been set up near the temple for dinner.

We must have walked around looking at the food on sale, debating where to eat for about thirty minutes, at least for long enough to realize that some of the stands were starting to close, so we’d better decide fast. Settling on a massive portion of Takiyaki, or octopus inside of fried dough balls covered in fish flakes and different sauces, we sat down on a bench and people watched for the rest of the evening.Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 12.13.45 PMScreen Shot 2017-04-07 at 12.13.31 PMScreen Shot 2017-04-07 at 12.13.22 PM

A Must-Visit in Japan: Sakura Spots

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IMG_20150402_204512Another one of my list-toppers, which should have a place on your travel checklist as well, is a good sakura spot: a beautiful place in Japan that showcases sakura when they appear in early spring. Sakura can be seen in many countries around the world, but in Japan they have an altogether different meaning for the nation’s people. Take time out in January to view the gorgeous blossoms if you visit the southern part of Japan, and in late March or early April if you’re near in the north near Tokyo. Bring a picnic blanket and some friends to check them out, or swing by a sakura spot alone after classes. Whatever the situation, be sure to give yourself some time to appreciate their brief presence — it’ll make for a relaxing break from the stress of your daily life, and some breathtaking photos!

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Sakura on a street in the girls’ dorm neighborhood (near Life grocery store!).

What are sakura?

桜 (さくら): Sakura is the Japanese term for cherry blossoms — the small beautiful light pink or white flowers that bloom on cherry trees for just a few weeks after winter, when the weather becomes warmer. Sakura refers to the Japanese cherry tree, which is pretty much just an ornamental tree, and doesn’t bear fruits.

 

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❤ Fallen sakura petals! ❤

What do sakura mean for the Japanese?

Sakura are a significant part of Japanese culture, and have had an appearance in Japanese art and literature for centuries. They signify the transience of life — the short time humans have on this Earth to live and to love — because they bloom briefly and fall to the ground in a number of days. In this way, sakura are also associated with a Japanese term I learned of in a literature course here at TUJ, 物の哀れ (もののあわれ) mono no aware. The term describes the sad but reflective feeling that comes along with the transience of things on Earth and in life, but in Japan this idea, along with viewing sakura in the spring time, seems to signal a chance to take a “time-out” from life to appreciate the concept itself and your own life. It’s also a time to connect with nature, and in Japan sakura viewing is an important part of your spring.

What is hanami?

Hanami (花見/はなみ) is a word for the act of viewing sakura; hana (花) means “flower” (and was at one time used to mean only sakura, not necessarily all flowers), and mi (見/見る) means “eyes” or “to watch.” Hanami is the act of picnicking under sakura trees to view their blossoms with friends. Usually people find grassy spots that have many sakura trees around them to picnic under, and a lot of people turn out to celebrate the custom. One of the more popular and unexpected spots for sakura I passed by quite a few times was Arisugawa Memorial Park (有栖川宮記念公園), which is the park that beautifully encases Tokyo Metropolitan Library (東京都立図書館).

Groups of friends and families gathering in the park outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Library.

Groups of friends and families gathering in the park outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Library.

Be sure to check out some sakura if you study abroad in Tokyo – it’s worth your time! Take a walk in a park, stroll across a bridge, or pick a spot to have lunch with friends if the weather is nice! Have fun!

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The Closest Beach Town to Tokyo: Kamakura

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 With my mother and my brother in town for a few days, we decided to go to one of the best locations for a day trip outside Tokyo: Kamakura!

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Kamakura is a very charming place filled with pretty knick knacks and lovely town scenery, not to mention a lovely beach. It is most well known for being a famous location for Buddhist temples and beautiful hiking paths.

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There are dozens of temples around the town, one of which contains an incredible graveyard of monks and notable figures.

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Each grave is individually ornamented with a beautiful stone and lovely fresh flowers.

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There were also some more specialized grave sites, such as this humorous and charming beer and cigarette offering.

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Regardless of the individualization, each grave was kept swept and manicured to emphasize the beauty of the stone statues.

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Each grave is incredibly beautiful and mysterious, thoughtfully incorporated into the surrounding nature.

IMG_7390The bamboo forest was breathtaking, especially with the light breeze. We visited on a perfect spring day.

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The sakura trees were blossoming throughout the entire neighborhood!

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My family and I went through some incredible hiking paths, where we were able to see a view of the Pacific through the trees!

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The main event was certainly the Daibutsu at the kotoku-in temple. Weighing approzximately 93 tons and measuring at almost 14 meters high, this statue is a monumental bronze sculpture of the Amida Buddha.

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It was incredible to behold.